Monday, September 24, 2012

Rising Inequality and Growing Segregation

A slew of recent reports gives us a picture of rising inequality. A report from the US Census revealed that the 60 percent that make between $20,000 and $101,000 earn around 46 percent of all income. That is a fall from 50 percent in 1990. The top five percent who earn more than $186,999 were the biggest gainers, increasing their share of national income. The income redistribution is a twenty-year trend that signals and embodies the rise of the superrich as important claimant on national income and as powerful shapers of political discourse. A report from the Federal Reserve released this summer shows that the Great Recession destroyed middle-income gains made over the past twenty years.

 The Pew Research Center also released a report this summer that showed the rich and poor are becoming more segregated. The percentage of rich households living in affluent areas doubled between 1980 and 2010. Just as income inequality is increasing, so is residential segregation. We get ideas about the world from our neighbors: when they begin to look increasingly like us we lose a sense of the other, the different and especially those with rapidly divergent economic trajectories. As we are becoming more unequal we are also losing touch with those different from ourselves.

 Another report from Sentier Research has an equally dramatic finding. While all cohorts aged 25 to 64 experienced drops in their income between 2009 and 2012, those aged 65 and above saw increases of 6.5 percent for the 65s-74s and 2.9 percent for the 75s and older. Many older Americans, because of their index-linked Social Security and stock portfolios (for the wealthiest at least), on average, are doing better than younger Americans. In some cases these differences even out as families pool money in intergenerational transfers of wealth and income. However, such transfers weaken as family size decreases, generations splinter and the elderly break away into gated communities. Inequality is increasing by age as well as income. Unemployment, for example, is borne more heavily by the young. Across Europe, youth unemployment rates are much higher than average unemployment rates. In Greece and Spain unemployment rates for those aged 15 to 25 is 52 percent. The national figures are 24 and 25 percent, respectively. That is why you see so many young demonstrators in the street. In the US, while the national unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent, youth unemployed is 14. 5 percent. 

Diverging economic conditions faced by young and old as well as rich and poor. We are becoming more unequal but also becoming more separated: the rich from the poor, the old from the young.